Saturday, 12 April 2008

Clever Zebra - is it all Black and White?

Now here's the thing. I've been reading Iyan Writer's well-reasoned piece about Clever Zebra in which he makes a strong case that for the view that, basically, they've got their business model screwed. However, while I agree with a lot of what he says, I think he's missing some nuances.

Clever Zebra have been giving away free, Open Source starter packs for a ferw months now, aimed at businesses wanting to build a virtual presence. The latest pack - Zebra Corporate - has just launched, and includes auditoria, offices, presentation areas and various handy tools and landscaping bits and bobs.

Clearly, on its own, just giving stuff away is no way to make money. So CZ actually have 2 offers: free edition (just the pack) and enterprise edition. The latter charges 5000 USD, plus a further 400 USD a month for... ummm... some other stuff. The site says; "Zebra corporate is a simple solution to second life for companies looking to make their entry into the virtual world with confidence. Clever Zebra clients are encouraged to join an engaged, connected community and support network where there is always something happening, and always something to do." So apart from an optional community I might choose to join, it is not clear what I get for the money. An island? A bit of an island? A consultant (whose credentials I have not seen) telling me the time after asking to see my watch?? Perhaps CZ think it is obvious - indeed, I thought it would be, too - but if you read the website, it is not clear what 10K for the first year gets you.

Anyway... I digress. This was not actually what I wanted to say. Iyan's argument is, I think, that any corporation looking at Second Life is not put off by the cost of building, but by a range of other factors: getting their own people to engage; concerns over the stability of the environment and (he reckons) the difficulty of forging lasting and worthwhile relationships with the SL community. I don't think the latter 2 actually apply to companies looking at Second Life for the first time - these concerns come later, when they discover what they've let themselves in for(!). However, I do think lack of a clear business case, the complexity of the viewer interface and concerns over the seamy side of SL are further disincentives.

In any event, none of these are helped by the offer of free stuff - and it is hard to see how the 10K USD is going to solve these concerns either.

That said, I do see 2 primary markets for CZ's wares. First is the non-corporate SME (Small-to-Medium Enterprise) marketplace. SME's looking to get a taste of virtual worlds, and not having the dedicated resources to devote time to investigation, could make use of the CZ offer to get them up and running quickly. However, the number wishing to avail themselves of the Enterprise Edition may be limited. It is not an inconsiderable sum when all you want is to dip your toe in the water.[ I am not claiming this is the "right" way to enter virtual worlds - but it will be, I would contend, a common route. ]

The real corporates - those who may actually have a business case around savings on air travel - may also have a use for CZ's services. A serious involvement in Second Life requires a serious investment of both people and money. But that does not mean that you have to go all-out from day 1. Many companies of my acquaintance are rather more circumspect, and want to trial a low cost/low impact proof of concept in Second Life before getting further engaged. The CZ offering fits nicely with this requrement. Of itself it may not solve the internal engagement issue, but it does make it a great deal easier to get such engagement. I have observed that internal engagement and involvement comes about when there is something people can actually visit. While it remains an idea under discussion, engagement is difficult to achieve.

I think that, in using words like "Corporate" and "Enterprise", CZ may only be fooling themselves about their likely client base. However, there is mileage in the concept - and who knows? They may pull it off. There are many companies offering assistance in starting up in virtual worlds. If your only USP is "our stuff is free" then it could be a long and rocky road ahead. Meanwhile, although 10K USD is a figure not be sniffed at, I do wonder how many of these it takes before one has a viable company, capable of paying people's salaries and servicing its creditors.

1 comment:

IYan Writer said...


perhaps just a clarification: I'm not saying that the companies are daunted by the big problems ("The major problems are the unwillingness to invest human resources in SL; the complexity and immaturity of Second Life as a business platform; and the biggest one of all, the difficulty of forging lasting and valuable relationships with Second Life community") - not at all, they don't know about them. They just want to be in Second Life.

What I'm saying is that these are the *real* problems and a competent and honest consultant should be up-front about them - not hide behind "Just pay us X $$ and all will be great" advertising.

However, Nick does seem to be addressing some of these issues in the VWN post today, so it might just be bad communication on their part.